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Playground star rating to measure safety during summer when temperatures are 'hazardous'

Amanda Hoh, Friday January 18, 2019 - 07:23 EDT
ABC image
A swing in the sun recorded a surface temperature of 75 degrees. - ABC

By 1:00pm on Thursday, the temperature in Holroyd in western Sydney was close to 40 degrees Celsius.

It was only slightly cooler in the shade of a tree at a local playground, but already the metal slippery dip, which was in full sun, was too hot to touch, let alone slide down.

Local mum Nicky Tongpaijit, who was on her way to the nearby shopping centre with her two sons, would not let them play on the scorching equipment.



"It's very hot, [the slide] is going to burn their bum," she said.

"I just want some more roofs for them to play under."

A found that on an average summer day, play surfaces and equipment could reach dangerously high temperatures.

Urban ecosystem scientist Sebastian Pfautsch found that , while a rubber tyre left out in the sun for kids to play with had a temperature reading of 105C.

Dr Pfautsch's initial assessment of the playground at Holroyd Gardens, which is partly sheltered by shade sails and has a mix of playing surfaces, showed data well over an air temperature of 38C.



At midday, the sunlit blue rubber flooring in the play area delivered a reading of 90C while the section in the shade measured 46C.

"It's a huge temperature difference within a metre," Dr Pfautsch said.

"Running on the sunlit surface at 80-plus degrees — you feel it very quickly on the soles of your feet."

Star ratings for playgrounds

Dr Pfautsch is creating a standardised measurement of playground performance and safety by developing a star rating system.

It considers attributes such as surface type (blue soft rubber, black rubber, sand, grass, woodchips), level and type of shade (shade sail, trees), and predicts for globe temperature on an average 30-degree day in summer.

Globe temperature is a combination of incoming solar radiation, reflected heat from a surface and air temperature.



"That's why I need to go out on very hot days and very cool days to study how these surfaces behave at a standard temperature," Dr Pfautsch said.

"This is one of the reasons not a lot of research has been done on this topic, because it's hard work.

"Not many people enjoy going out when it's 40 degrees ... but I'm fine with it."

Tool for local councils

Dr Pfautsch hopes to get several councils onboard to co-fund his project.

Until then, he is pushing ahead with his work and plans to analyse 30 to 50 playgrounds predominately across western Sydney.

The ranking system will be ready by next summer.



"It's a tool for councils and a decision-making tool for the public so they can show responsibility when it comes to summer heat and so they can advise parents," he said.

"It will help parents choose where to go with their kids; it might be a great playground to use, but not good for summer."

Dr Pfautsch said the ratings would range from zero to five stars, with the best playground likely being a water park.

Parents welcome recommendations

Alex Harmon, editor of family activity website Ella's List, said she would include Dr Pfautsch's star ratings in their regular reviews of playgrounds around Sydney.

The reviews currently rate playgrounds based on their levels of shade, proximity to a cafe and whether the park is fenced.



"The biggest gripe for us and myself as a parent is the lack of shade in Sydney playgrounds," Ms Harmon said.

"You have to think twice about taking your kids to a playground, because if there is shade it usually doesn't cover the whole playground.

"A lot of new playgrounds have metal slides and they get just so hot.

"Those two things need to be worked on and we need a guide for parents to know what they're in for."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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